Watch what you wish for

Tale from Sri Lanka

People in a small village at the edge of a forest in central Sri Lanka believe that greed and miserliness are the cause of grief and hence, they tell this tale to their children time and again.

A long time ago there lived a miserly couple with their son in the village. The man cut wood and sold the logs in the market. His wife grew all the vegetables and grains they needed. Together they made enough to live well but they both were so stingy they moaned and groaned to spend even a penny.

“How I wish that our garden cucumbers were a metre long! I could manage with just one for a week!” said the woman often to herself. Her husband on his part would wish for  the “golden touch” by which he could turn everything he touched to gold.

One rainy day, a monk knocked on their door and asked for food and shelter. The couple could not refuse the monk even though they secretly wondered what it was going to cost them. The woman lit a fire and made a hot though meagre meal and served their guest. After the meal and rest the monk got ready to leave.

“I thank you for your hospitality. As a reward, I shall grant you each a wish. Go ahead and ask whatever you wish for!” said the monk as he opened the door.

The greedy couple looked at each other with gleaming eyes. They fell at the holy man’s feet and made their wishes.

“I wish for magical fingers that could make whatever I touch a metre long!” prayed the wife thinking of cucumbers and carrots in her garden. “I wish for the ‘golden touch’ so that I could turn all that I touch to gold!” wished the man.

“So be it!” said the sage with a smile and left their home.

The couple could not believe their luck. They danced around the house in joy. Their little son watched them from his crib. The mother noticed him and bent down to gently tweak his nose. Lo and behold, her son’s nose grew to be a metre long. The child squealed in pain and the mother cried out in horror. The father rushed in to see what had happened. He could not believe his eyes. He gently ran a finger over his son’s pointed nose and guess what, the nose turned solid gold. The boy cried harder, as he could not take the weight of the heavy long nose.

The greedy couple rushed out of the house in search of the holy man, when at last they found him deep in the woods. They fell at his feet. “O, Wise and Holy Man! Forgive us for our greed. We do not want the boons you gave us. Please make our son normal again.”

The sage smiled and said, “Let this be a lesson well learned. All will be right. From now on, live your life in contentment!”

Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. November 16, 2012 

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